Does Santorum Have a Nuclear Option?

Most people reading about Rick Santorum’s “huddle” with conservative activists today probably figure he’s about ready to throw in the towel. He just got beaten in one of “his” states, Wisconsin, and he’s trailing in at least one poll of his home state of Pennsylania. Surely he doesn’t want to end the campaign as he ended his Senate career: with a drubbing by his homies. Perhaps it’s time to consider what sort of minor Cabinet post he might ask for in a Romney administration, or start those negotiations with Fox News for a cozy perch.

Maybe that’s what is going on, but one quote from the Burns/Haberman/Martin Politico account of the “huddle” caught my attention:

[Richard] Viguerie, the legendary Republican direct-mail strategist, said the conservative group pitched ideas to Santorum on how to turn around his campaign.

“Most of us don’t think we need small course corrections, we need to come up with some big, bold ideas,” Viguerie said. He declined to be more specific but said to expect changes in Santorum’s approach “in the next seven to 10 days.”

“He’s got to get control of the narrative,” said the old conservative warrior. “Right now, he doesn’t have control of it and the establishment Republicans and the media are telling everybody it’s over with. That’s the thing you’ve got to deal with. He’s got to get access to a microphone.”

Now when someone like Viguerie talks about “big, bold ideas” and getting “control of the narrative” and “access to a microphone,” I don’t imagine he’s referring to a new policy paper on gas prices. I smell brimstone and gunpowder and burning fields. But that leads one to wonder: what could Rick do that’s sufficiently shocking to really stir things up at this late date? Make a 3-D ad morphing Mitt into Barack? Put out a new litmus test whereby all Republicans must spit upon an organizational chart for the Massachusetts Health Plan? Play the Mormon card?

I dunno, but candidates in Rick’s situation have been known to get a little crazy. In a similar situation in 2000, John McCain delivered a speech comparing Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan–an act for which McCain had to spend years of abject toadying to the Christian Right in atonement. It certainly wouldn’t be out of character for Santorum to start naming names of RINOs to be treated, like mainline Protestants, as passive if not active agents of Satan. Beyond that, there’s no telling what he might come up with if he’s willing to risk that ambassadorship to Liechtenstein.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.